About 20 women have held a demonstration in a street in the Afghan capital, Kabul, calling on the international community to protect Afghans.

The Taliban, which swept back to power in August 2021, adheres to an austere interpretation of Islam and had imposed a slew of restrictions on girls and women since then.

In a statement to mark International Women’s Day, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, Roza Otunbayeva said It has been distressing to witness the Taliban’s methodical, deliberate, and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere.

The UN mission said the crackdown was a colossal act of national self-harm” at a time Afghanistan faces some of the world’s largest humanitarian and economic crises.

Taliban authorities have removed women from all but essential government jobs.

Women are also barred from going to parks, funfairs, gyms, and public baths, and ordered to cover up in public with a burqa.

But the biggest crackdown has been on teenage girls and university students, with the authorities banning them from secondary schools and higher educational institutions. No country has officially recognised the Taliban government as Afghanistan’s legitimate ruler, with the right to education for women a sticking point in negotiations over aid and recognition.

The crisis was compounded late last year when the Taliban leadership banned Afghan women from working with NGOs, forcing several aid agencies to suspend their vital work.

Foreign aid had also declined dramatically since Afghanistan’s assets were frozen by the United States after the Taliban returned to power, further aggravating the crisis.

The United Nations’ special representative for women in Afghanistan, Alison Davidian said the implications of the government’s policies impact all Afghans and will resonate throughout generations”.

Fany Olumoye/Adetutu Adetule

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